Letters from a self-made merchant to his son – 2

This is the 2nd part of my notes from the book “Letters from a self-made merchant to his son”. You could read the first part here.

Graham on the art of selling:

A salesman has to talk, but before that he ought to know when to talk.

A real salesman is one-part talk and nine-parts judgment; and he uses the nine-parts of judgment to tell when to use the one-part of talk.”

Never badmouth competition, never give up your dignity. Yet, be humble enough to sell.

Never run down your competitor’s brand to them, and never let them run down yours. Don’t get on your knees for business, but don’t hold your nose so high in the air that an order can travel under it without your seeing it. You’ll meet a good many people on the road that you won’t like, but the house needs their business.”

3 steps to making it big in sales.

First—Send us Orders. Second—More Orders. Third—Big Orders.

You’ve got to know the in’s and out’s of your business.

You’ve got to know your goods from A to Izzard, from snout to tail, on the hoof and in the can. You’ve got to know ’em like a young mother knows baby talk.”

The best time to sell is anytime.

When business is good, that is the time to force it, because it will come easy; and when it is bad, that is the time to force it, too, because we will need the orders.”


Graham on work-life balance:

Well, this is 1890’s. I can’t imagine a discussion on work-life balance then – but yes, our man gets it bang on!

“I hear a good deal about men who won’t take vacations, and who kill themselves by overwork, but it’s usually worry or whiskey. It’s not what a man does during working-hours, but after them, that breaks down his health.”

A fellow and his business should be bosom friends in the office and sworn enemies out of it. A clear mind is one that is swept clean of business at six o’clock every night and isn’t opened up for it again until after the shutters are taken down next morning.”

“Some fellows leave the office at night and start out to whoop it up with the boys, and some go home to sit up with their troubles—they’re both in bad company. They’re the men who are always needing vacations, and never getting any good out of them. What every man does need once a year is a change of work—that is, if he has been curved up over a desk for fifty weeks and subsisting on birds and burgundy, he ought to take to fishing for a living and try bacon and eggs, with a little spring water, for dinner.”


Graham on mixing business with pleasure:

Once the unfortunate sonny boy mixes up a letter to his girlfriend and a letter to a customer who’s supplies weren’t met. Boy! Was Mr Graham livid? You bet!

“I haven’t any special objection to your writing to girls, but you must write before eight or after six. I have bought the stretch between those hours. Your time is money—my money—and when you take half an hour of it for your own purposes, that is just a petty form of petty larceny.”

Keep your personal life out of business.

Business is like oil—it won’t mix with anything but business.”


Graham on appearance, looks, etc:

Never take a man at face value.

“I don’t mean that you should distrust a man who is affable and approachable, but you want to learn to distinguish between him and one who is too affable and too approachable.”

Dress well, because it helps in making the other person think better of you. But, don’t fall for it if the other person is dressed well.

Appearances are deceitful, I know, but so long as they are, there’s nothing like having them deceive for us instead of against us. I’ve seen a ten-cent shave and a five-cent shine get a thousand-dollar job, and a cigarette and a pint of champagne knock the bottom out of a million-dollar pork corner.”


Graham on life, self-management, etc:

“Remember that when you’re in the right you can afford to keep your temper, and that when you’re in the wrong you can’t afford to lose it.”

“Your Ma did the cooking, and I hustled for things to cook, though I would take a shy at it myself once in a while and get up my muscle tossing flapjacks. It was pretty rough sailing, you bet, but one way and another we managed to get a good deal of satisfaction out of it, because we had made up our minds to take our fun as we went along. With most people happiness is something that is always just a day off. But I have made it a rule never to put off being happy till to-morrow.

Poverty never spoils a good man, but prosperity often does.”


Graham on managing expenses:

Graham finds his son spending a bit more than his means. Well, our man is livid.

“The cashier has just handed me your expense account for the month, and it fairly makes a fellow hump-shouldered to look it over.  The bills won’t break me, but they will break you unless you are very, very careful. I have noticed for the last two years that your accounts have been growing heavier every month, but I haven’t seen any signs of your taking honors to justify the increased operating expenses; and that is bad business.

I haven’t said anything about this before, as I trusted a good deal to your native common-sense to keep you from making a fool of yourself in the way that some of these young fellows who haven’t had to work for it do. But because I have sat tight, I don’t want you to get it into your head that the old man’s rich, and that he can stand it, because he won’t stand it after you leave collegeThe sooner you adjust your spending to what your earning capacity will be, the easier you will find it to live.

You will never make a good merchant of yourself by reversing the order in which the Lord decreed that we should proceed—learning the spending before the earning end of business. Pay day is always a month off for the spend-thrift, and he is never able to realize more than sixty cents on any dollar that comes to him. But a dollar is worth one hundred and six cents to a good business man, and he never spends the dollar. It’s the man who keeps saving up and expenses down that buys an interest in the concern.”


Graham on education:

The old man is of the opinion that while college education is good and helps polish a kid, its the school of life that makes a man.

“While the lack of a college education can’t keep No. 1 down, having it boosts No. 2 up.”

“It isn’t so much knowing a whole lot, as knowing a little and how to use it that counts.”

“If there’s anything worse than knowing too little, it’s knowing too much.”

College doesn’t make fools; it develops them. It doesn’t make bright men; it develops them. A fool will turn out a fool, whether he goes to college or not, though he’ll probably turn out a different sort of a fool. And a good, strong boy will turn out a bright, strong man whether he’s worn smooth in the grab-what-you-want-and-eat-standing-with-one-eye-skinned-for-the-dog school of the streets and stores, or polished up and slicked down in the give-your-order-to-the-waiter-and-get-a-sixteen-course-dinner school of the professors.”  

“Education will broaden a narrow mind, but there’s no known cure for a big head.

There’s a situation where the Harvard going son proposes going to Cambridge for a post-graduate course and Graham turns it down and asks him to report to business (meat packing house) – where real education awaits him.

“You’re not going to be a poet or a professor, but a packer, and the place to take a post-graduate course for that calling is in the packing-house. Some men learn all they know from books; others from lifeboth kinds are narrow. The first are all theory; the second are all practice. It’s the fellow who knows enough about practice to test his theories for blow-holes that gives the world a shove ahead, and finds a fair margin of profit in shoving it.”


Graham on women, girls and choosing a wife:

Graham is livid again upon learning that his son is spending frivolously on flowers for girls – much beyond his meagre salary.

A twelve-dollar clerk, who owes fifty-two dollars for roses, needs a keeper (accountant) more than a wife.”

A bit of advice on picking up a girl.

A man can’t pick his own mother, but he can pick his son’s mother.”

“Never marry a poor girl who’s been raised like a rich one.”

This one’s a favorite of mine. So true, too.

There’s no real objection to marrying a woman with a fortune, but there is to marrying a fortune with a woman.”

You better be careful of all those old women out there looking for a rich chap, after all, a man and his judgement of women is pretty poor.

“You can trust a woman’s taste on everything except men; and it’s mighty lucky that she slips up there or we’d pretty nigh all be bachelors. I might add that you can’t trust a man’s taste on women, either, and that’s pretty lucky, too, because there are a good many old maids in the world as it is.”


Graham on speculating with money: 

Once, Mr Graham finds his son shorting a commodity thinking he could make a quick buck. Our man will have none of such activity under his nose.

“Trading on margin is a good deal like paddling around the edge of the old swimming hole—it seems safe and easy at first, but before a fellow knows it he has stepped off the edge into deep water. The wheat pit is only thirty feet across, but it reaches clear down to Hell. And trading on margin means trading on the ragged edge of nothing. When a man buys, he’s buying something that the other fellow hasn’t got. When a man sells, he’s selling something that he hasn’t got. And it’s been my experience that the net profit on nothing is nit.

When a speculator wins he don’t stop till he loses, and when he loses he can’t stop till he wins.

I hope you enjoyed the Old Man’s advice as much as I did. Please do leave a comment on what you think of the Old Man :).

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